Date June 6, 2024
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Pioneering Brown-Tougaloo Partnership commemorates 60 years

In celebration of six decades of impact, community members from Brown and Tougaloo College, a historically Black college in Mississippi, honored the “historic and unparalleled” partnership’s enduring legacy and future.

WASHINGTON, D.C. [Brown University] — U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson grew up attending racially segregated schools in Mississippi. It wasn’t until he attended Tougaloo College, a historically Black college in Jackson, in the 1960s that he learned side-by-side with white students for the first time, as part of the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership.

Established in 1964 during the Civil Rights Movement, the pathbreaking partnership between Tougaloo and Brown University began as a student and faculty exchange program that aimed to enrich both campuses. Sixty years later, it has grown into a multifaceted relationship and a model for other schools. Undergraduates from both schools spend time learning on the Brown and Tougaloo campuses, faculty build research collaborations, Tougaloo graduates pursuing medical careers enroll at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School through an early-identification program, and more.

Thompson was among the alumni, faculty, leaders and friends from Brown and Tougaloo who championed the impact and innovation of the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership at a 60th-anniversary celebration held on Thursday, June 6, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Together, they honored a Brown-Tougaloo “family that’s 60 years in the making,” Thompson said.

“It was because of Brown University’s involvement that I had white students sitting next to me,” recalled Thompson, who represents Mississippi in Congress and chaired the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. “Without the leadership at Brown and Tougaloo creating this opportunity, it would not have happened, and it’s lasted all this time… For me, it’s been a part of Bennie Thompson’s growth.”

The daylong celebration, which drew hundreds of attendees, included a colloquium with panels and Q&As, riveting performances by the Tougaloo College Chorale, and an evening gala that included additional remarks and a tribute to Brown-Tougaloo Partnership alumnus and longtime champion Dr. Galen Henderson, the first Black neurointensivist in the U.S. and a 1993 Brown medical school graduate, who died in December 2023.

Brown President Christina H. Paxson hailed the shared values and deep commitment of Brown and Tougaloo that have enabled the initially unlikely and uncharted partnership to grow and thrive over six decades.

“That a Rhode Island university and a college in Jackson, Mississippi, would develop a partnership at all is extremely unlikely — and that it would then last 60 years… is absolutely astonishing,” Paxson said. “I hope that all of you leave tonight feeling proud of what has been accomplished, inspired by what possibilities can come in the future and committed to actually making that future happen.”

Paxson, Thompson, Tougaloo President Emerita Beverly Wade Hogan, Brown-Tougaloo Partnership alumni, faculty from both schools, and many others celebrated the visionary founding of the partnership, which has connected generations of students, faculty and staff and strengthened both schools.

“This really is a historic and unparalleled partnership,” said Hogan, who led Tougaloo for 17 years until her retirement in 2019.

During a president’s panel, Paxson and Hogan underscored the importance of sustaining and expanding the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership. The panel was moderated by Elfred Anthony Pinkard, Brown’s first-ever HBCU presidential fellow, who is helping to shape collaborations with HBCUs to build on Brown’s unique partnership with Tougaloo and further its commitment to partnerships that advance educational equity.

“Our institutions have common values: service, justice, leadership, openness, perspective — and those are qualities that are needed for strong democracies… the idea that you have to have perspective and breadth in your vision and your knowledge,” Paxson said.

The partnership is particularly critical, the two presidents agreed, in an era marked by political partisanship, increasing scrutiny against teaching Black history, threats to diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 decision to prohibit race-conscious admissions.

“The partnership is even more critical at this point,” Hogan said. “If we follow this path — this model — [and] build on it, I can see a whole different world out there in 60 years: It can be a world where people unite more, it can be a world where people talk more and get to know each other, and [have] a more peaceful existence, because education is the driver of that.”

Changing lives and perspectives, from 1964 to today

Brown’s partnership with Tougaloo was formalized in 1964 during the Civil Rights era. That year, as Tougaloo became a known refuge and a central meeting point for movement organizers, the Mississippi State Legislature introduced bills to revoke Tougaloo’s charter and prevent its graduates from becoming teachers in the state.

A group of concerned Providence citizens with ties to Mississippi approached then-Brown President Barnaby Keeney and asked for help to support Tougaloo. Months later, the two institutions drew up an agreement that began with a student exchange program funded by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations.

In the decades since, more than 600 students have participated in programs, projects and academic and cultural exchanges through the partnership, and 60 students have graduated from the exchange, said Brown’s Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sylvia Carey-Butler, who leads the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, which organized the event. That includes an Early Identification Program with Tougaloo and Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School, the program through which Henderson enrolled at Brown. More recently, Brown’s School of Public Health created a Health Equity Scholars program, which each year admits an exceptional cohort of master of public health students from Tougaloo and other HBCUs.

“The time that this partnership was forged was a very difficult time in this country,” Carey-Butler said. “Yet here we are celebrating 60 years of enduring partnership.”

Francoise Hamlin, a Brown University associate professor of Africana studies and history, who has been leading Brown-Tougaloo Partnership exchange trips to Tougaloo since 2009, has witnessed the impact firsthand.

“I really believe in experiential learning, [as] that’s how students learn the most — and the partnership is life-changing,” Hamlin said. “When I think about those who have gone through it over the years, most of them have gone into service: we’ve produced civil rights lawyers, doctors and teachers — a lot of teachers — and [these were] not necessarily directions they were thinking about going. But again, this is life-changing.”

The partnership changed Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor’s life. She emceed the evening gala and shared her journey as a Tougaloo College student who was inspired by professors from Tougaloo and Brown — including James O. Barnhill, the first chair of Brown’s Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies — to enroll in the partnership and matriculate at Brown. The experience exposed her to theater and the arts and set her on a path to become an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actor.

“[Barnhill] saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Ellis-Taylor said. “I transferred to Brown, finished at Brown and went to NYU, and from then I’ve been working pretty regularly for the last couple of decades.”

Other speakers during the day’s events included Brown Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose, who directs the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, Dr. Mukesh K. Jain, dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown, and Tougaloo’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Delores Bolden Stamps, who was a first-year student at Tougaloo when the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership was established.

“I’m probably among the few that’s been at the table for 60 years, and I can relate to the ebbs and the flows, but the one thing that stands out to me is progress: 60 years of progress,” Bolden Stamps said at the gala. The partnership exemplifies “the impactful power of people who are committed to making a difference… Don’t leave this room not knowing the power and the impact of this partnership.”